Some years ago I was working with a small NGO in the Matabeleland South province in Zimbabwe. We were supporting the Zenzele Women's Goatkeeping & Development Group outside of the town of Gwanda by, among other things, conducting a two-week practicum on water harvesting. The goal was to help the women (who sang every day as we trekked out to their hectare garden plot) increase their crop yields, enabling them to sell more vegetables to their neighbors and others in the vicinity.
We measured slopes, we dug channels, we piled berms. We were guided by a German guy who had developed techniques for making community-built dams for the Swaminathan Foundation in Pondicherry. (He sounded exactly like my grandmother, from Alsace, by the way.) The challenge in Mat South is that rains come only one month out of the year--December I believe, IF they come--and typically wash away the topsoil without soaking deeply into the earth. An additional challenge is posed by the fact that the Ndebele people who occupy these lands were historically speaking, semi-nomadic pastoralists rather than farmers. Farming was not among their traditions at the time that their movements were constrained by Rhodesians arriving at the turn of the 20th century to take over land and launch Zimbabwean agriculture.
OK, we dug, we piled, we talked, we sang for a couple of weeks. These enterprising women discussed their various lines of business: gardening of course, and the had a milk cow, and they sewed school uniforms. And of course they kept goats, or rather, their kids kept the goats but the women sold them off for local consumption.
At the end of the workshop, we had a review session. After all that work, the women of the Zenzele group were somewhat enthusiastic, politely so, but they hadn't been blown away by the assembled experts and effort.
I asked Ms Moyo, who was sort of their leader, ""What is it that you really want to find out? What would be the most help for your group?' She said, ""Well, we have all these businesses, and we are making money..."" (Murmurs of jubilant assent.) ""... but we don't know how much money we are making, we have no records."" Ah. :""And so,"" she went on, ""We don't know whether to buy another milk cow--we can always sell milk, no matter what--or buy more sewing machines and fabric for the uniforms or rent another farmer's plot. If you could help us figure that out, we would be all right."" (Murmurs of concurrence.) So we had taken 2 weeks of their time, focused on water harvesting to improve cropping, and these women weren't sure--and had never been asked--whether cropping was a potential profit center or not.
It's almost enough to make me agree with Dambisa.